“What is going on with your face?” Ijeoma pipes up upon seeing me.
“That is the welcome you’ll tell me, okwa ya?” I reply good-naturedly, smiling and nodding to the greeting of the little girl bustling about Ijeoma’s bed, picking up used plates and clothing. I perch at the edge of Ijeoma’s bed, not knowing how to start unburdening myself. I decide to start with the neutrals.
“How is nwunye nwam doing?” I ask, referring to her newborn daughter.
“Number one, she is not your nwunye nwa,” Ijeoma begins in a mock stern voice. “My daughter will marry a fabulously rich guy. Number two, she is fine. They are bringing her over here today, so that I’ll try to breastfeed – Wait…” She arches her brows at me in a quizzical expression. “Why are you not attacking me for implying that your son isn’t rich?”
“Ah, nothing o. I don’t even have strength, as you’re seeing me now,” I say, and then, seeing that the little girl has left the room, I begin, “Nne, I did something very crazy just now, and I am positively scared.”
“Does it have anything to do with your face?” Ijeoma asks, chuckling, attempting to lighten the mood.
“What’s with you and my face sef?” I ask, a tad impatient.
“Ok, sorry. What happened?” she says, sobering up quickly.
“After what happened yesterday now, today again, that girl came to the house again –”
“Ehen! I told you she won’t back down just like that! Didn’t I?” Ijeoma crows, interrupting me. “So, tell me, what happened?”
I am starting to wonder if she is the right person to take this matter to for advice, as I continue, “Anyway, long story short, I left the house for them.”
“What?!” Ijeoma screams. “You left what for who?”
“The witch and Ifeanyi… I left the compound for them. I locked them out of the house.”
“Correct babe!” she hails, raising her right palm for a high five and beaming at me. “That will teach them!”
I plaster on a smile of my own, fake and reluctant, as I give her the high five, finally deciding that she definitely isn’t the one to talk to.
“So, who is the girl that was hovering around you just now?” I ask, changing the topic.
“Oh! My sister-in-law sent her househelp to come and do some things here. My husband and baby have been in her house since my daughter was discharged.”
“Eeyaa, God bless her,” I say.
“Yes o! She is a very nice person,” Ijeoma affirms.
After some moments of awkward silence, I rise from the bed.
“Nne, I need to run some errands. I just said to check in on you,” I say, stretching myself a bit.
“Are you going with your face like this?” she asks, gesturing at me.
“How is my face, bikonu?” I ask with an exasperated huff, before grabbing at the little mirror on her bedside table and glancing at my reflection. “Ewoo!” I exclaim, laughing. “So, I have being walking the length and breadth of Enugu State with one eyebrow done.”
“I didn’t know that you were unaware. I thought it is the newest rave,” Ijeoma says, laughing with me. “You know I have not been in the real world for ages.”
“I was doing my make-up when that idiot showed up. I just left the house like that.” I begin to wipe at my brow. “I did not even remember to carry my wallet. If not that there was money in my jean pocket, I for hear am.”
“How come there was money there?” Ijeoma asks.
“Hmm… Long story o! I lost this 4k that I was supposed to use and buy cooking gas, more than two months ago. I just found it in this jean pocket when I came down from the bike. And I had even washed the jean together with the money sef.”
“See? God already knew what was going to happen today. This should tell you that He is in support of what you did!” Ijeoma analyzes.
“Of course! It is only you that can draw this kind of conclusion,” I say, chuckling into the mirror in my hand, turning it in different angles as I wiped the brow filler out of my brow, to be sure that both brows are uniform. “So, when are they discharging you?” I ask, putting the mirror down.
“It depends. They took my blood sample this morning for PCV – don’t ask me what it means, because, I don’t know. If the result is good, they’ll discharge me tomorrow. If not, I may have to take another sachet of blood.”
“Winch oñu obara!” I say with a short laugh.
“Enyi winch oñu obara,” she retorts with a chuckle of her own.
“Well, let’s pray the blood count is high enough, so that you’ll go home tomorrow. I’m tired of coming here, biko!” I huff with a mock peeved glance around the room.
“Me too. I’m craving my very own bed at home,” she says wistfully.
“Ok now. Let me be going. Hopefully, by next tomorrow, I’ll come to the house and visit.”
“Yiou can use my makeup o!” Ijeoma’s voice stops me at the door.
“You remember I packed my makeup bag now,” she says. “You can use it and finish up.”
“Oh! That? Don’t worry. A day without makeup does not kill anyone.” I open the door. “See you when I see you,” I call, before shutting the door after me.
Once outside the room, I pull my phone out of my pocket to dial Nkaiso’s number, all the while, finding it weird that Ifeanyi has not called me, and worrisome that my husband hasn’t called me either.
Nkaiso is waiting for me at the entrance to the secretariat. She smiles upon seeing me. I can’t help the smile that comes to my face in response to her warmth.
“Bia, this woman, are you pregnant?” she says, hugging me warmly.
“Pregnant kwa? No o!” I protest laughingly as I hug her back.
“Hmm…Ok o!” she says, sweeping a quick look over me, head to midriff, before waving the matter aside. “Let’s go to an eatery and talk,” she says, motioning to the left.
The eatery is a small wooden enclosure that serves as the office food place, with plastic tables and chairs crammed so close to each other, with just enough space for customers to squeeze themselves into the chairs and squeeze themselves out when they are done. Nkaiso orders soft drinks for both of us. Thankfully, the lunch rush hour is yet to come, so, there are very few customers in the booths.
“So, tell me,” she starts, going straight to the point, “what is going on?”
I abridge the story as much as I can without leaving out the important facts. “My worry now is, my husband is angry with me. He has not called me back since after I reported myself to him. And I think I worsened the matter by locking his brother and his prostitute out today.” I observe with some amusement, in spite of myself, how Nkaiso winced at the word ‘prostitute’. Nwanyi a sef, I think with a silent chuckle.
“So, what are you going to do?” she asks.
“Ha! I don’t know o! I just wish I didn’t fight!” I wail. “I don’t like the fact that my husband is angry with me. But I had no choice. I got tired of that…that” – I flail mentally for a word to best describe Felicia, one that won’t offend Nkaiso’s delicate sensibility again, before settling on – “that girl’s nonsense!” I spit the word ‘girl’ out like it’s the dirtiest word in English Language.
“Don’t beat yourself up,” Nkaiso admonishes gently. “You did what any normal human being would do in that circumstance.”
“But you wouldn’t have fought if it were you,” I say almost accusingly.
“Let’s not go there for now.” She smiles. “There are a lot of things I would have done differently. But then, that is why we are different. The first and foremost thing for now is to get your husband to forgive you, and get him on your side. If your brother-in-law lives up to his threat and reports you to his uncles, you need your husband on your side.”
“So? I should call him and apologize?” I say.
She smiles her acquiescence, before taking a sip of her Fanta.
I spent more time with Nkaiso than I planned. And so, I couldn’t get home to pick up Gabby’s and Nuella’s ID cards. Doing so, before heading to their school, would make me late to pick them up. So I simply hailed a cab.
On the drive to the school, I keep dialing my husband’s number, but he doesn’t pick up. He must be really mad at me, I think sadly.
I don’t know if I should thank God that Gabby was burning up with fever when I got to the school to pick him and Emmanuella up, because that was the only reason the school authority released them for me without insisting on me showing their IDs.
As we make our journey home, inside the cab is quiet, except for the intermittent whimpers from Gabby as he lies, ensconced in my arms. Emmanuella sits beside us, staring at my son with a worried expression on her small face. On my own part, I am worried about two things – Gabby’s illness and the uncertainty of what I will meet at home.
“Biko, kwusi ebea, let me buy some drugs,” I speak up, tapping the driver’s headrest as an indication that I am talking to him.
He pulls off the road, and stops the car beside Lafes Pharmacy.
I put Gabby down on the seat, alight from the cab and slam the door shut, to make a dash to the pharmaceutical store and buy paracetamol syrup for Gabby. I take two steps away from the vehicle, and then hesitate at the intrusion of the thought on whether to leave the children behind in the cab while I go into the store, or to take them along.
“The days are evil, biko,” I mutter to myself as I turn back and open the cab door again.
“Ella, come,” I order Emmanuella, while I pick Gabby up into my arms.
“Madam, I hope you won’t waste time,” the cab driver grumbles at me as I maneuver the children out of the car.
“No, I won’t. Let the doctor just have a quick look at them,” I say, not waiting for him to agree or not, before slamming the shut again and proceeding for the store. “That’s how you people use to steal children,” I mutter to myself, as I heft my son in my arms and hold on to Nuella’s tiny palm. Their food flasks and school bags are in the cab, but I don’t care about those things at the moment.
“Aunty, we don’t have change o,” the sales girl (and/or nurse) informs me minutes later. She begins to hand me back my money, while reaching for the paracetamol which she had already packaged for me.
“Chere, biko!” I snap at her, snatching the drug from the counter before her fingers can find purchase of it. “Will I give him the money to drink? What is the exact problem?”
“The drug is 120, we have 300 naira here, but no 80 naira,” she says, eyeing me unpleasantly.
“Ok, give me the 300 naira,” I say. “You will owe me 80 naira. Just be sure to remember my face.”
As she hands me three hundred naira notes, I remember Nkaiso’s words. This woman, are you pregnant?
“Erm…shey you have pregnancy test strip?” I ask the girl.
“Yes, ma, it’s 50 naira,” she replies.
“Give me one, and then give me Vitamin C with the remaining change.”
On getting home, the compound is eerily quiet. I wonder what Ifeanyi and his girlfriend have been up to in my absence. I decide against asking the gateman. I can’t be gossiping with him, I reason.
I unlock the door, and let myself and the kids into the house. Sitting down on one of the sofas, I proceed to peel off all of Gabby’s clothing. Half way through, he starts crying at the top of his lungs.
I try to cuddle him to settle him down, but his cries hitch up several octaves, while he tried to wriggle away from my embrace. I am starting to get alarmed by the bizarreness of his behaviour, when I see it – a red and angry swelling on his side, just below his right rib. I gingerly reach out and touch it. He screams his protest, his tears streaming. The swelling is hot to the touch.
“Why is he crying like that?”
I almost jump out of the sofa at the voice. I turn to see Ifeanyi walking into the living room from the hallway that leads to the bedrooms. I entertain a quick bolt of incomprehension over the question of what he is doing inside the house, before realization dawns on me.
“Oh, thank God!” I heave in relief, as it just then occurs to me that I did not turn the lock twice when I locked the door earlier.
Months ago, my husband and I had to forcefully open the front door one afternoon that I locked the car keys in the car, with the house key still in the car. Since then, locking the front door requires turning the key twice in the lock. Turning the key once does not lock the door anymore.
At least, I think to myself, smiling, my sins have reduced.
And then, I refocus on my distressed son.
Okwa ya? – Right?
Nwunye nwam – My daughter-in-law
Winch oñu obara – Blood sucking witch
Enyi winch oñu obara – Friend of a blood-sucking witch
Biko kwusi ebea – Please stop here
Chere biko – Wait please
Written by Adaku J